Friday, June 30, 2006

Thoughts on Confirmation

We had a confirmation at my church last Sunday. It was somewhat out of season, as confirmations are normally performed on Reformation Sunday in my congregation, but due to unusual circumstances, this young man was forced to delay the event until summer. So he stood by himself in front of the pastor and the congregation, and solemnly professed his Christian faith. Afterwards, we all shook his hand and ate some cake in the church basement.

It was a pleasant scene, and it brought back memories of my own confirmation, which occurred nearly 13 years ago. In particular, it reminded me of how clueless I was about the whole thing. Did I know what I was "signing-up" for? No. Did I really understand the content of the Christian faith to which I was pledging myself? No. Did I care if I was confirmed or not? Not in the slightest. Was I happy about the party afterwards? Perhaps, but only to the extent that cash from my relatives might be forthcoming.

In a section of Book on Adler, Kierkegaard depicts a lovely bourgeois family living in Christendom. Since they are (of course) Christians, when the time comes, their eldest son is confirmed:

"Let us then take the oldest of the children; he is now at the age when he is to be confirmed. It follows, of course, that the youth answers yes to the questions the pastor puts to him; how in all the world would anything else occur to the youth? Has one ever heard that anyone has answered no? On the other hand, it perhaps may have been pointed out to him that he should not answer too loudly and not too softly either, but should do it in a becoming and courteous manner... It is to such a degree obvious that he is to answer yes, indeed, to such a degree that his attention, instead of being directed to the answer, is directed to the purely aesthetic side of the formality. So he answers yes - neither too loudly nor too softly, but with the cheerful boldness and yet modest propriety that is becoming in a young person. On the day of confirmation, his father is somewhat more earnest than usual... The mother is moved; she has even cried in church... Thus the youth on his confirmation day will probably have a more solemn impression of the father, a moving impression of the mother; he will gratefully and joyfully remember this day as a beautiful recollection, but he does not receive any decisive Christian impression."

Kierkegaard's tale bears a striking resemblance to my own confirmation, and I doubt that I am alone in this matter. For many (if not most) of our youth, confirmation is merely a cultural "coming-of-age" event that carries very little religious significance. And parents tend to view the ceremony as proof that they have successfully raised Christian children (and, having done so, they no longer need to drag the kids to church on Sundays). Perhaps I'm being overly cynical, but it seems to me that our churches need to reconsider the nature of confirmation.

One suggestion would be to raise the "confirmation age". We should ask ourselves: Is a fifteen or sixteen-year-old person really mature enough to make such an important decision? After all, according to most experts, adolescence now lasts well into one's twenties, so perhaps we should postpone this rite of passage to a later date. That might make confirmation more meaningful for all involved.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Kierkegaard on Apologetics

"If one were to describe the whole orthodox apologetic effort in one single sentence, but also with categorical precision, one might say that it has the intent to make Christianity plausible. To this one might add that, if it were to succeed, then this effort would have the ironical fate that precisely upon the day of triumph it would have lost everything and entirely quashed Christianity... To make Christianity plausible is the same as to misinterpret it."

--- Soren Kierkegaard, Book on Adler (59)

Call Me "Doctor Relief"

After five long years, my graduate school career is officially done!! On Tuesday morning, I successfully defended my thesis, thereby earning a doctorate in chemistry. Since then, I have done nothing but celebrate and sleep. It feels so good to finally be a "Doctor"!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why I Love Eberhard Jüngel

The post below was written as part of Ben Myer's excellent series "For the Love of God", and it describes my affection for Eberhard Jüngel, that cuddly Lutheran theologian from Tübingen. Please check out the original post for some interesting comments.

In a world where faith is usually on the defensive, confidence is an essential quality for a theologian. And Eberhard Jüngel has confidence in spades. Indeed, it seems to me that the expression “no apologies” (or “no apologetics”) could serve as the overarching motto for his entire theological program. Whereas others try to ground Christian theology in philosophical principles or human nature, Jüngel asserts (again and again) that “God has spoken”—in Christ, on the cross, once and for all. Despite the complexity of his thought, Jüngel is first and foremost a listener to the Word of the gospel as revealed in Scripture, and his theological method is therefore a daring “chasing after” the Word.

Unlike others who have contributed to this series, I do not have an interesting story about how I came to love and admire Jüngel. I have never met him, or heard him speak, or taken a class on his theology. But on the recommendation of this blog, I naively requested a copy of God as the Mystery of the World (1977) via inter-library loan. The experience of reading this sprawling masterpiece, so dense and so rich, was both frustrating and exhilarating. I learned quickly that Jüngel does not accommodate himself to the reader; instead, the reader must accommodate himself to Jüngel (again, “no apologies”!).

But the theological workout paid sizable dividends, as reading God as the Mystery of the World triggered a seismic shift in my theological perspective. Here I found a thinker whose brilliance was so enormous that his theology could somehow encompass the great minds of the past, both theological and philosophical. Barth and Bultmann, Luther and Aquinas, Hegel and Nietzsche, Descartes and Heidegger—all contribute in different ways to Jüngel’s symphonic theology.

Jüngel also has a polemical side—another admirable trait, in my opinion—that was on display during the controversy surrounding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. His desire to bring “clarity” to the debate resulted in the book Justification (1999), a masterly presentation of the essence of Lutheran theology. In keeping with the spirit of his entire career, Jüngel declared that Justification “is not a book that takes pleasure in compromise. An ordered theology makes no compromises.” For Jüngel, the gospel needs no apologies.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

On Temporary Hiatus

I haven't posted much recently, as all of my energy has been focused on finishing the last few chapters of my thesis. I hope to resume active participation in the blogosphere after my defense on June 27th (pray for me on that day...). So please check back at that time.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

U.S. Government: An Iraqi Life is Worth $2500 (at most)

From an article in today's Washington Post, entitled "In Haditha Killings, Details Come Slowly":

"At 5 p.m. Nov. 19, near the end of one of the most violent days the Marine Corps had experienced in the Upper Euphrates Valley, a call went out for trucks to collect the bodies of 24 Iraqi civilians.

The unit that arrived in the farming town of Haditha found babies, women and children shot in the head and chest. An old man in a wheelchair had been shot nine times. A group of girls, ages 1 to 14, lay dead. Everyone had been killed by gunfire, according to death certificates issued later.

The next day, Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, a Marine spokesman in Iraq, released a terse statement: Fifteen Iraqis 'were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately after the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another'... Not long after the bodies were discovered, Maj. Dana Hyatt, a Marine reservist whose job in part was to work with the civilian population when damage was inflicted by the U.S. military, paid out $38,000 in compensation to the families of the 15 dead. The Iraqis received the maximum the United States offers -- $2,500 per death, plus a small amount for other damage.

Is this what Bush means when he talks about the "armies of compassion"?